Homestead Enviros

Are Homesteaders Bad for the Environment?

A long, undecided battle is taking place in Humboldt County, and, as has been mentioned before in the Prospect, a similar struggle may emerge here.

There are several interesting features to the discussion: one is the battle over TPZ land. A similar struggle is warming up here.

Another interesting feature of the Humboldt battle is how people have fallen out over it. People who were once considered "environmentalists" now find themselves pitted against a new kind of enviro. Many of the old environmentalists came to the rural lands from cities and established their own little stongholds years ago. They were defenders of the trees and watersheds, and some of them were significant to the struggle to save Old Growth redwoods.

The new "enviros" are different, they are often urban in origin, but they are more technological, and they don’t only consider groves and watersheds, they look at the "footprint". Some of those folks are working to keep development "clustered."

Below is a link to an article about how rural Southern Humboldt blossomed under the "owner builder codes" put forth by United Stand. Those codes made it easier for people to homestead, to build a place that is "good enough" and improve on it as they go. The Fringe Editor of the Sierra County Prospect has long lobbied for "homesteader codes" that restore the rights of poor people to obtain land, build a house they can afford, and pursue happiness as they see fit; it’s how much of America was built. Here is the link to Hauskin’s article:

Homesteading, for those who believe in it, is the most American of endeavors. One turns sweat and faith into cleared land, staples, and home. Jefferson, in his vision, saw America peopled with hardworking, independent citizens that homesteaders embody.

However, some people come forward to point out that "homesteaders" have a heavy footprint.

Below is a letter to a North Coast newspaper which tries to "out" homesteaders as non-environmental. Important note: the writer of the letter is not an environmentalist of any stripe, and his letter is more along the lines of "now you’ll get yours" since he supports logging and not environmentalists.

It would have been better to have an example from someone who really understood the issues, but there are key elements of the "anti-homesteader" litany here

There are several issues at stake. First is the point made by large timber companies and neo-enviros that breaking up large forest parcels into pieces less than 2500 acres decreases the amount of timber harvested. This is also a key point in the "Timber Production Zone" or "TPZ" argument. Homesteaders typically buy less than 160 acres, and they generally tend to consider their trees worth more standing than going to mill, and so they do, yes, reduce timber harvest.

Homesteaders intrude on the unbroken forest, increasing the likelihood of development even as mold sprinkled across bread will quickly grow together. Their influences spread outward, sometimes connecting; for example cats, vital to most homesteads to keep rats and mice down, also take wild birds and rodents, and as their numbers increase their influence spreads until there is no "cat free" space between homesteads.

Next, homesteading is inherently inefficient. The septic system is less efficient than the sewer system. The wood heated cabin is less efficient than the gas heated apartment complex. Going twenty miles to the store is less efficient than going a block to the store. Everything about living as an individual unit instead of living in a hive is less efficient.

Living out from the main line doesn’t just mean driving farther, it means building roads. A road that meets code is simply not affordable, particularly when it is a long road. There are unbelievable requirements for engineering, and surfaces, and grading, and gutters, and cut backs, most of which are simply unnecessary. Timber harvest roads continue in use, but they weren’t planned for continuous use. When the road washes out, fix it. If you get some cash, throw some gravel on it. These measures keep the road useable, but they don’t necessarily prevent erosion into water systems.

In Humboldt, some of the old environmentalists find themselves on the same side as slavering developers, in principle, as far as it goes. That will happen here in Sierra County, too. Really green communities are small, and they are surrounded by unbroken forest. Homesteader, and truly rural, communities are small holdings surrounding a local town. Homesteaders often times live as they do because they don’t care for urban areas. They point to their lands, which are far better cared for and far more loved than industrial timber lands, and insist, sometimes rightly sometimes not, that they increase wildlife diversity. They increase deer herds when the deer eat their fallow crops and windfall apples, and when their hounds keep the mountain lions and coyotes at bay. Reducing foxes and coyotes often means increased raptor kills on rodents, favoring those predators which are the most endangered. True, their roads are sometimes not the best, but they sustain less traffic and lighter traffic than gravel roads which are legal in some subdivisions. Homesteaders, in their minds at least, live on the land, respecting it because it directly contributes to their well being.

Some of that is true, but where does homesteading leave off and "five and ten acre ranchettes" begin? Ten people in a watershed might actually improve some kinds of diversity; will a hundred people, all with septic systems and poorly designed dirt roads, still improve diversity?

The subject is enough to make a sincere and thoughtful person deeply conflicted, and enough to divide a community.

We have a lot to discuss in the county; growth of our urban areas is not such a concern as in Humboldt but our rural lands are rich, and when the economy resumes, land here will again be dear, and the discussion of TPZs, houses in the hills, and homesteaders will be important.

We might be able to learn from their experiences.


A good first stop: Humboldt CPR, Coalition for Property Rights

All is far from lost in Humboldt county; moderates abound in the discussion, and some groups are even pulling the different views together. The North Coast Land Trust has hosted some discussions, read about one HERE

Here are some comments from June, in the Humboldt Herald. Heraldo does not believe the woods should be developed. 

The Humboldt Herald back in October: 

Here is the Humboldt County General Plan site: 

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